Monday, December 29, 2008

Three Important Things to Do this Week

The Big day has come and gone, and hopefully you enjoyed a healthy dose of laughter and love during the holidays. As we experience the slower, after-Christmas pace we can use this time to initiate a few positive habits with our kids. Here are my top three recommendations for this week.

1. Write Thank You Notes. Help your kids to form a positive habit of writing thank you notes to their family members and friends during the holidays. This is an important activity to establish in your home as it encourages gratitude, thoughtfulness, kindness and consideration of others. You can even make it an activity with the kids to create and decorate cards, or turn on one of your favorite movies and set the Thank you cards out on the coffee table for everyone to write while they watch the show. I always address large white envelopes for the different families to whom we need to send notes, then we all write our individual notes and put them in the various envelopes and send them off.
2. Set Goals. As the new year approaches we want to teach our kids to think about what they want to achieve in the coming year. It is a good time to reignite a fervor for good grades, new friendships, spiritual growth and a healthy lifestyle. Goals help us to think forward and consider where we are headed and what we want to do about it. Goals ought to stretch us and move us in a positive direction. They are not meant to discourage us, so be sure you make them achievable. I usually set a goal in the following four areas: Spiritual, Physical, Social and Mental. My spiritual goals relate to reading scripture, praying and memorizing God’s Word. Physical relates to exercise and eating habits. Social usually centers on my friendships I need to work on and getting together with people on a regular basis. With my mental goals I typically make a plan for reading and learning a new skill each year (this year I’d love to develop a skill in painting and pastels). Teach your kids to set their own goals, and invite them to share their goals with you so you can be their encourager.
3. Clean out the Junk. We all have stuff that has accumulated over the years, and now is a great time to clean out and reorganize. It feels good to start off the new year with the junk cleared out and everything in its place (so you can find it at least for a while). Start with the junk drawer in the kitchen, then the refrigerator. As much as possible, work together with the kids as it makes the process more enjoyable. Provide a box and a trash bag for each child to use to conquer their bedrooms and closets. The box is to be used for give-aways. In our house this year I designated a box specifically for books. We all have books we need to give away in order to make room for the new ones, so use this as an opportunity to clean out and freshen up your library. You can resell the books at Half Price Books or you can give them to a local charity or shelter.

If I were going to add a fourth item to the list it would be, “Have fun!” Don’t make any of the three activities above into a laborious tasks, but rather turn them into fun family adventures. It begins with your example and attitude. Writing thank you notes can be an arts and crafts time (while watching a movie as I said earlier or listening to a favorite CD). Sharing your goals can be a conversation topic at the dinner table and a time to think of a family motto for the year (like “Redefine in 2009” or “Seek the Divine in 2009”). Cleaning out the junk can become a contest of who can give away the most or who has the biggest trash bag. Laugh and enjoy the week together. Be deliberate about investing in family time and enjoy ringing in the new year together! Happy New Year to you and “ May all be fine in 2009!”

Monday, December 22, 2008

No Greater Joy

The big day is just a few days away! So how are you feeling? I know for me, little twinges of worry sneak into my thinking as I consider, “Did I buy the right gifts for people?” “What groceries do I still need to get for Christmas dinner?” “Is there anything I’ve forgotten?” Yes, I’m checking my list constantly throughout the day to make sure I don’t miss anything. How about you?

Joy, it seems fleeting at times. If we are going to experience joy we must be deliberate about it, otherwise the busyness of the season will crowd it out. So in these last few days before Christmas, I want to be intentional about turning my eyes toward Him, rejoicing in the simple and pure fact that Jesus left His throne in Heaven and came to earth to offer His life for us. In all of history there is no greater picture of love. Reflecting on this love and knowing it is directed toward us makes a true joy begin to well up inside of us.

Joy comes from the Lord. Joy is a fruit of God’s spirit. As we abide in Him, that fruit becomes evident in our lives as well. When we turn our hearts in gratitude toward the love God has for us, a joy beyond description begins to grow in our lives. In Psalms we read, “Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

As Christ’s followers, we can experience that very joy the Psalmist proclaimed. David also said, “Those who look to Him are radiant with joy.” My dear friend, let’s allow God’s love, joy and peace to well up in our hearts to the point of overflowing and blessing those whom He puts in our lives this holiday season. Take a moment to reflect on His love for you and thank Him for it right now. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Three Things to Keep

I know, I know it is the season of giving, but I want to suggest today 3 things to keep for yourself. Last week I talked about 3 things to give: forgiveness, love and encouragement. Two weeks ago I mentioned several things to get rid of such as complaining, gossip and sin. All of these are directed at helping to increase the joy we experience during the holidays and increase the joy we bring to others as well. Certainly the holidays are a time for Christians to rejoice as we celebrate the coming of our savior. Let’s consider the following three things to keep on our minds and in our hearts both now and all year long.

Gratitude. We have talked quite a bit about thankfulness in the month of November, but I want to emphasize the importance of having an attitude of gratitude during the holiday season. When our hearts are filled with continual thanksgiving, it changes the way we act and what we say. A grateful person chooses to look for the best in others and in circumstances. She sees God’s loving hands holding her through her pain. She recognizes that every challenge also carries a blessing and an opportunity to grow.

Proper Perspective. When we step back and look at the bigger picture of eternity, we begin to see that the petty things we tend to get upset over are not really that important after all. We must ask ourselves, “Twenty years from now, will this really matter in the big scheme of life?” More importantly we must ask, “Where does this fit in the big scheme of eternity?” Now I’m not saying that details aren’t important, I’m just saying let’s keep everything in perspective and recognize that some things aren’t worth our anger.

God’s Word. I want to encourage you to not only read God’s word, but to memorize it as well. You can do it! Come on give it a try! Prayerfully ask God to help you. Begin with a small passage. The more you memorize, the easier it gets. It is important to have God’s word in your heart to give you wisdom, strength and perspective when you are going through big and little challenges. Here are some passages to consider: Philippians 4:6 – 8, Psalm 34, Psalm 62, Psalm 103, Psalm 121, Romans 8:28, Colossians 3.

As we approach the final weeks before Christmas, let’s choose to make them into days of joy and peace as we keep our eyes on the Lord. Seek the joy, peace and strength that can only come from Him as you bless those around you this Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Three Gifts

This month I am writing about the beauty of true joy in the holiday season. I reflected last week on the need to clean out some old and unhealthy actions and attitudes which seem to cloud our joy. This week I want us to examine the beauty of giving and the joy that it brings. Now hold on – I know you may be thinking to yourself, “But I don’t have any money to give good gifts this year.” Well I have good news for you – the three things I want to talk about today won’t cost you anything monetarily, yet don’t underestimate the value of these gifts! If you give them to the people around you, you will find that these gifts are truly priceless and bring much joy to life.

Love and Compassion: A true, pure love is patient and kind. It bears with the other person and does not get easily angered. So let’s be honest, true love is not easy especially toward those who are slightly annoying and difficult. Granted it is easy to love those who love us and those who are easy to get along with, but the Bible encourages us to love our enemies. I’m thinking that includes a lot of difficult people as well. When we choose to reach out in love toward others, a joy wells up inside of us. Hatred and unkindness drain us of our strength and rob us of our joy. If you want to experience a deep and abiding joy, ask the Lord to help you love everyone around you, not just the easy-to-love people. Reach out to people beyond your comfort zone and touch them with your compassion, grace and kindness.

Encouragement: The word “encourage” means to give strength. The root word “cour” comes from the Latin word “heart.” When we use our words to honestly encourage those around us, we are giving strength to their heart. Yet so often our critical spirit emerges, and we drain people of their strength by constantly nit-picking and correcting. Let’s choose to look for opportunities to strengthen others through our words throughout this holiday season. Use phrases like, “I’m so thankful for the way…”
“I was so blessed when you…” “You are so good at…” Give the gift of encouragement and watch the joy begin to rise up inside of your heart.

Forgiveness: Who do you need to give the gift of forgiveness to this year? Is there something you have been holding over another person? A bad memory? A grudge? A disappointment? A deep hurt? Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it brings great joy (to you as well as the forgiven one – maybe more so to you). Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are becoming a doormat and inviting people to walk all over you. It is releasing the right to hold something over another person. Has the Lord forgiven you of all your sins? If you are a follower of Christ, He certainly has! Then we must recognize we have no right to hold an offense over someone else. Ask the Lord to help you forgive those whom you feel as though you just can’t forgive. Then stop playing the “I am hurt” tape over and over in your brain. Release the anger, let go of the bitterness and experience His joy.

Remind your kids about the joy which comes from these three gifts. I encourage you to decorate three boxes and share with your kids (one each night) about the importance of these gifts. Talk about practical ways to give these gifts to their family and friends throughout December and all year long. The wise men brought three gifts to Jesus, and certainly we would be wise to bring these three gifts to others throughout our life. They are not easy gifts to give, but they remind us of our humble need for God’s grace, power and strength each day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tis the Season

With the Thanksgiving leftovers almost finished off, it’s time to turn the corner and begin the delightful celebration of Christmas. For many people the Holiday season isn’t so joyful or merry. The holidays can bring to our minds sad memories and hurtful pasts. For some this may be a difficult season because you have lost a loved one. For others it may be a financial crisis which is looming large on your mind or you may just feel sad. In these next few weeks before Christmas, I want to visit about ways we can experience some “deliberate delight” during the holidays no matter what your circumstances are right now.

Today let’s consider the things in our lives that tend to rob us of our joy. Think of it this way, when is the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Possibly right now you have quite a few items which need to be tossed out of the refrigerator because they have been there too long and no one is ever going to eat the old moldy stuff anyway. You need to make a deliberate decision and a conscious effort to throw out the old, so you can see what you really have to work with and enjoy. We all know the nice feeling we experience when we have a sparkling clean refrigerator. Okay, so to be honest, that feeling comes around about every ten years when we actually do clean it out!

In the same way there may be some habits, tendencies and even sins that need to be cleaned out of our life. They are joy robbers, and they can slip into our lives unnoticed sometimes and stay around in our hearts and minds growing all sorts of ugly mold. Take some prayerful time to reflect on your life right now and see if any of these areas are cluttering up your heart and robbing you of joy.

Critical Spirit
Concentrating on what is wrong in a person or situation
Comparing with others
Self-centeredness or lack of caring and compassion for others
Immorality or impurity
Gossip Jealousy or greed

My friend, as you look at this list I want to encourage you that there is hope in turning from these behaviors. God is a redeeming God . He loves you and wants to help you turn from the old behaviors and experience the joy of new behaviors such as love, forgiveness, peace and thankfulness. Seek His help in getting rid of the old and filling your heart and mind with a renewed joy. II Peter 1:3,4 reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”

Let’s each do a little “life clean out” as we begin the month of December, seeking God’s love and strength as we progress each day.